Five Little Wolves (*)

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
30 October, 2018
Editorial: 250
Fecha de publicación original: 16 enero, 2001

Every drop of rain has a place to fall’s “+5 on the Internet” party turned out to be not just a celebration of the first five years of the magazine’s existence, but also a homage to five different ways of viewing the Net which have stood the test of time. The debate reunited a “fivesome” no longer commonly seen together at conferences and seminars: Jordi Adell, Alfons Cornella, Eudald Domènech, Vicent Partal and myself . We are all reeling, and just about recovering, from the flood of dot coms and electronic commerce which asphyxiated the debate on the development of the Internet and its social impact in a whirl of shares and adrenaline of the Nasdaq kind. So, it was comforting and refreshing to see a group of people going back to the roots of a discussion that, notwithstanding the interruption, is becoming more and more fundamental: exactly what kind of information society are we heading for? And, one way or the other, from their different personal perspectives, this is what was discussed by the speakers at the spontaneous “round chair” session of the “+5 on the Internet” celebration attended by more than 200 hundred people in Barcelona. Later they all had the chance to carry on the discussion over a glass of red wine and excellent cured ham and cheese (don’t miss the “Making of +5 on the Internet” )

Jordi Adell, who started Spain’s first web server at the Universidad Jaume I in Castellón in 1993, set the tone of the debate immediately when he started off by saying, “I don’t have a company and I’m not interested in dot coms or the Nasdaq. I belong to that other Internet, the Net people use to get to know and communicate with each other”. Then he said he feels pessimistic about the way the Net is evolving, and with reference to the lack of investment in the field of education called on the authorities –there were journalists in the room– to “do something quickly because we are missing the boat”. Adell is at present director of the Centre d’Educació i Noves Tecnologies of the UJI where he is developing tools for online work for teachers and students.

Alfons Cornella pointed out something all too obvious: we’re all getting old. However, instead of producing an ID card as proof he argued that we are older because “we now have interlocutors with whom to exchange ideas, which is proof that things are changing”. With reference to himself, Partal and yours truly, he claimed that despite the fact that we are all very different we have three things in common, “we enjoy what we do, we’re not in it just for the money and we see the Web as a tool for dialogue, particularly which focuses on designing tools to enable people to express themselves on the Internet”.

Eudald Domènech, who I have known since he founded Servicom, one of the first Internet service providers that appeared in Spain, is one of the few real Net businessmen I know. His speech was full of great anecdotes illustrating how he came to understand how the Internet works. Eudald’s company, Telépolis, was absorbed by Eresmás on the 1 August last year and he described the rough ride he had in the process. Before he could sign with his new partners he had to get rid of the Dutch TV production company Endemol, who were bought up by Telefónica two months after investing in Telépolis. “It turned out to be like the Marx Brothers’ famous cabin scene. In one room there was Endemol, the notary in the middle and in the other the Eresmás people who had to put up the money for buying out the Dutch. And the latter couldn’t know what was going on or the deal wouldn’t go through.”

Vicent Partal, a good friend since the Internet introduced us, made a much more personal and affectionate speech. Vicent, when his company was still called Infopista Catalana, designed and placed enred.ando on his server –at that time it consisted of the weekly editorial and nothing more– where it remained until February 1999. He recounted a number of anecdotes too, amongst them one about my past which he couldn’t resist because it torments and makes him green with envy – I wore the pale blue and white colours of the Argentine football team ….at university. He’d wanted to get me one of those shirts, he said, but hadn’t found one in Barcelona. Instead he presented me with the Catalan Football selection’s shirt with the name of and the number 5 emblazoned on it. Now I will be forced to carry on for another five years so that I can get a shirt with my real number on it – number 10!

My speech dealt mainly with the change in communications model brought about by the Internet and the repercussions of a media that allows for user participation at any level of their of daily lives. This discovery has, to a large extent, dictated the kind of relationship that I have maintained with the Net since then and has made its mark on Since this adventure began, user participation in the content of the magazine, as well as the development of moderated virtual spaces for the debate and knowledge management, has become the DNA which defines our project and what we do on the Net.

The cherry on top was the debate which followed when discussion was opened to the floor, thereby raising the quality of contributions and reflection considerably. 5 years is a very short time to trace anything’s destiny, especially something like the Internet which speeds up time like a lover’s heart beat. Perhaps for this reason, so much analysis and prediction about the Net lacks the density of experience which makes it reliable, and possible to map out recognisable tendencies. This lack, apart from everything else that has been said and done regarding what we call the Information Society, emerged in the discussion with renewed force.

Adell, for instance, stressed the value of games (especially video games) in education and complained about the lack of educational software in Spain made by and for teachers, the fact that we forget about the kids with an ease that is worrying when it is they who are going to bring technology into the classrooms. All that public administration seems to want to do is appear in the pictures. “We don’t have any reliable statistics on how many connected computers there are in schools, we don’t know what we’ve got”. If we add to this the fact that teachers range from everything between technophobes and technophiles, the dire situation is not hard to imagine. Cornella responded to this by saying that he thinks we demand social transformation the wrong way. The important thing is to change our perspective on how we do things. “This is just starting to happen and requires a cultural change and social debate, which, for the meantime anyway, is still insignificant. That is why what we are doing makes such sense. That is the function, for example, of what is doing, the creation of social environments for the progress of dialogue”.

At this point, all divergences converged in one disparate and, at the same time, extremely coherent concept. Today there is not one future but many futures and each individual chooses the one they want. As Partal said, the important thing is not the debate about technology but what we do with it. This idea was picked up and reformulated by Cornella moving the centre of gravity of the debate from the the new economy to the new society; education, culture, economic relations… Or, as Eudald put it, there are many more Internets than we can even begin to imagine and many more uses for them than we can even dream of, and they will surface and change the world again. Unlike other revolutions, Domènech says he feels optimistic: we are not going to miss the boat at all, we’re going to meet it and, then, get on board.

To round things off, I reminded us all of something that we have said many times in when some things change, everything changes. And we find this very difficult to accept. When we go into the Net we enter a different reality where the circumstances that define our personalities and social position in the real world disappear. We operate in an environment which tends to break down linguistic, cultural, social, knowledge and intelligence barriers. Nevertheless, up to now we have used the Internet fundamentally from the perspective of what we know individually. We haven’t entered the phase where we develop complex information systems adapted to the demands and opportunities that the Net affords us, that allow us to operate on the basis of values we have assumed and accepted collectively.

From our modest position, that is where en.medi@ is directed: organising virtual spaces monitored by online knowledge managers in which we can negotiate participation independently of the degree of knowledge (or social, cultural or political position) of each participant, under the sheltering umbrella of a collective knowledge threshold that advances at the same time as that participation. So, what we have is a world of possible futures and it is up to each one of us to choose his/her own future and decide its aim.

As someone in the audience said at the end, social transformation is already under way and nobody is going to stop it. We are facing a philosophical paradigm shift: from social organisation based on hierarchies to another based on building networks. When all this had been said, we got up and got together with a glass of wine and a piece of excellent ham in our hands.

(*) will publish an audiovisual version of the debate held in Barcelona on the 12 January at the “+5 on the Internet” party.

Translation: Bridget King